Bridging the Digital Divide

Public libraries in Canada have existed for a few centuries and the current concept of free, tax-supported institutions dates from 1883 at Saint John, Guelph, and Toronto (source: The Canadian Encyclopedia). One of the tenets of the public library system is access, and not only to collections but to programs and services. One of the services that is highly used at the Thunder Bay Public Library is computers and the internet. The library fills the gap that is known as the digital divide – a divide that exists for people who do not have the resources to fund personal access to online resources.

This divide was front of mind when the library started the re-opening process after the COVID shutdown. Indeed, one of the library’s strategic objectives is to mitigate the impact of homelessness and poverty and part of addressing this is the Library’s active participation in the local Breaking Down Barriers Working Group. With support from this group and other partners, the Library submitted applications for funding for technology. The Library was successful in obtaining two grants to provide digital access to people with the greatest needs from the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, the Thunder Bay Community Foundation and the United Way of Thunder Bay.

The first grant provides 40 tablets and rocket hubs (portable, unlimited monthly wifi access) which have been available for borrowing since November 9. The second grant is underway and is intended to provide approximately 50 Chromebooks or other devices with rocket hubs to eligible borrowers.

So how is eligibility for borrowing these items determined?  The Library is working with over 20 community partners to identify people with the greatest need. The partners provide the library with a referral for a client or someone they know who needs access to the device/internet.  The library will then contact the person to review the borrowing agreement and determine which library branch would be best for pick up. The current list of partners is available at tbpl.ca/digitaldivide.

The items are loaned for 4 weeks (no late fees as per usual practice) but if not returned they are shut down remotely. Users are asked to return the items to a branch and not through a night drop so that they are not damaged. 

If you think you may be eligible or know of someone who would benefit from this program, please see the details on our website at tbpl.ca/digitaldivide, send an email to comments@tbpl.ca or call 345-8275. The Library is open to working with other community partners as well. Please contact Tina Maronese at 684-6813 or tmaronese@tbpl.ca to indicate your interest.

Our thanks and acknowledgement: The Thunder Bay Public Library Bridging the Digital Divide – Access for Those Who Need it Most and The Thunder Bay Public Library Working in Partnership to Bridge the Digital Divide are supported by the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, the Thunder Bay Community Foundation and the United Way of Thunder Bay.

Sylvia Renaud – www.tbpl.ca

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